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Racial Disparities and Homelessness in Western New York

Date: Oct 12, 2018
Author(s): Homeless Alliance of Western New York
Topic(s): Housing / Neighborhoods: Homelessness, Poverty / Income Inequality: General
Type: Report

In this data analysis, Western New York is defined as Erie, Niagara, Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans County because these are areas the Homeless Alliance of WNY coordinate services with and administer the data for.

The Homeless Alliance of Western New York analyzed racial disparities among homelessness within Western New York and examined the homeless system’s equity serving different racial/ethnic groups in terms of receiving those services, prioritizing those services, and housing success rate. The ideal model for an unbiased homeless system would distribute assistance such that it is received in equal percentages across racial/ethnic groups as the percent of that racial group experiencing homelessness. One of the consequences of systemic racism is an overrepresentation of people of color among those who experience homelessness. Black people make up 11% of the general population of Western New York but they account for 25% of the people in poverty and 47% of the homeless population. When the number of people who experience homelessness are compared against the number of people who are in poverty, Black people living in poverty are 3 times more likely to experience homelessness compared to White people. These suggest that poverty rates alone do not explain the over-representation, but that systemic racism blunts the ability of people of color to recover from financial catastrophe to avoid homelessness relative to those who are White.

We reviewed data entered in our Homelessness Management Information System pertaining to the race and ethnicity of clients who have experienced homelessness and those who have participated in the coordinated entry process and those who received housing vouchers assistance (through permanent supportive housing or rapid rehousing programs). Some programs, like emergency shelter, must serve all. However, in 2014, our system for distributing rapid-rehousing and permanent supportive housing vouchers changed from first-come, first serve to a coordinated entry process that prioritized those who had highest vulnerabilities on the VI-SPDAT triage tool. We found that higher rates of white people presented with more disabilities than other race and ethnic groups, and more scored in the higher categories of the vulnerability index. We found that implementing a need-based coordinated system sharply reduced the disproportionately white access to permanent housing that existed in 2013. We also found that the highest rate of successful exits from rapid rehousing are among Hispanic/Latinx clients and Black clients.

The homelessness alleviation system is the safety-net of last resort for community members at their most dire financial circumstances. It is thus the system that pays the sharpest witness to the consequences of institutional racism and systemic barriers to financial resource acquisition. We will continue monitoring the demographics of those experiencing homelessness and those receiving services to ensure that our system is not perpetuating the same racism.

The purpose of this data analysis is to analyze racial disparities among homelessness within Western New York and examine the homeless system’s fairness across different racial/ethnic groups in terms of receiving services, prioritizing clients for services, and housing success rate. Homeless system information is solely obtained from the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), which stores client’s demographic information as well as program information, such as program start date, exit date and exit destination. 90% of the shelters, street outreach programs, transitional housing, rapid rehousing, and permanent supportive housing programs in the homeless system participate in this database.